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I'm a lawyer and entrepreneur in Seattle in my late thirties. In my solo consumer protection practice, I meet men and women of all ages who have issues with debt and credit. Money problems and money fears manifest differently in women -- even in smart, educated, professional women.
I have observed that women are generally more risk-averse than men. As a woman entrepreneur who started my business on a shoestring, and waited five years into my law career before I felt "ready" to go out on my own, I know what fear is.
While some men might get into trouble by buying large-ticket items impulsively, women -- even in the younger generations -- get into trouble when they rely too heavily on something outside of themselves to provide security or authority for their financial lives.
In the old days, they called that "getting your Mrs. degree." That's what "good girls" did. Now being a "good girl" seems to have morphed into getting degree(s) without regard for the cost, to get a good job, so we'll be "set."
And many of us figure out the hard way that A does not necessarily lead to B, which doesn't always lead to C. Even if it did for our Boomer parents.
Many women my age and younger struggle with a "good girl" complex about money -- that if they are smart and get good grades, spending six figures on higher education is going to pay off and be okay. I hate to say it, but that's naive.
"Fear has become a feminine trait," says Caroline Paul, quoted in the May issue of Outside magazine, an issue which featured female pioneers in the outdoors. “I think we’re overprotecting girls while encouraging boys to take risks, be tough, and learn sound decision-making,” observes Caroline Paul.
Are we still doing what we are told -- out of fear? Many of us are. I certainly have succumbed to this.
Caroline Paul's observation about girls in general and girls in the outdoors is so true for girls in business. Nowadays, we're encouraged to go into technology, law, science and medicine. But why are we still told to put our heads down, work for others until we're burned out, and not take any risks (other than student loans)?
"Get that degree and you'll be okay," the voices tell us -- both male and female voices.
"Get another degree, and then they will give you experience."
"Get more experience, and then they will take you seriously."
And then suddenly, you wake up at age 25, 30, 35 or 40 and it dawns on you that the reason you're unhappy and up to your eyeballs in student loans -- and they're still not taking you seriously -- is that you haven't been enough of a rebel.
You've spent a decade or more getting yourself "ready" instead of just getting started.
You've let other people tell you how to not get your hands dirty and not skin your knees: very old-fashioned advice that sounds more like preparing for a debutante ball than a real career and real life goals.
I've learned that you are going to be okay if you learn to trust yourself and your skills, and spend a lot of your own time teaching yourself things they don't teach you in grad school, and spend a lot of time ignoring what everyone is telling you to do.
If I feel scared or stuck, I look for a woman who is doing well in her career, and making good money at it, and still enjoying her life outside of that job. I take her to coffee and listen to what she has to say. I ask her what books she has read that have influenced her the most. I read those books. (One book a couple different women told me about years ago, which I have then suggested to others is: The Princessa, by Harriet Rubin. It's a sassy retooling of Machiavelli's The Prince for modern Western women.)
This is a profoundly good time for women to be entrepreneurs and the be financial authority in their own lives. And, the more we have, the more we are able to be generous with others, and teach them to be bold.
Is there something that you achieved even though people told you that you weren't ready? What was it? I would like to hear about it. Please brag and gloat. Thank you!